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A Drive-By Wedding

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He only hoped she’d believe him.

The car hood was hot against his chest, stuck to his skin in itchy patches full of sweat. Even minute movement was painful, but move he had to if he wanted to see what she was doing. Carefully he raised his head. She sat in the back seat, Sasha spread limply across her lap, and stared at Jeth through the windshield, coldly furious. Fear circulated through him. Something more was wrong here than the circumstances.

Ripping himself upright, he swung around the Saturn’s open driver-side door without thinking about the weapon she’d taken from him. It lay in quick pieces, bullets scattered in the well of the passenger floor, clip tossed empty on the back seat beside her, gun wide-open and clearly harmless, wedged neatly under her foot where he obviously wasn’t going to get at it easily even if he wanted to.

He didn’t.

“What’s wrong?”

He stooped in front of her, automatically reaching to touch Sasha’s throat, feel for the pulse. She slapped his hand away and gathered the toddler protectively against her.

“What the hell have you done to him?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Jeth assured her—or tried to. Tried to assure himself, too. “He was like this when I took him. It’s why I took him.”

“He smells bad and he’s too small,” she said, paying no attention. “What is he, two? He doesn’t weigh anything. They sleep hard at this age, but not like this. He’s malnourished, he’s probably sick and he needs help.” She aimed a swift but awkward kick at Jeth that he blocked with a forearm. Damn, she was going to be a handful, and he was stuck with her now. Her eyes were bright; anger and something more painful, more accusing—and, unaccountably, disappointed. It was an odd thing to feel, but he didn’t want to disappoint her. “Why aren’t you helping him?”

“I am helping him—I did help him. I got him out of hell. I found you. You’re going to help me help him.” The hair on the back of his neck stood on end: a caution he knew to heed. They weren’t far enough away from the house he’d removed Sasha from to stop for any length of time. He felt naked and vulnerable, weaponless thanks to his stupidity and her, and now he had more than a tiny child to protect; he had her. A school parking lot in a populated neighborhood was not the place for long explanations—especially not this explanation.

“Look,” he said, and she did. Looked him straight in the eye and waited for him to lie convincingly to her. He swallowed. Who needed falsehood when the truth would suffice? “Look,” he repeated, “I wish I could let you go, but I can’t. I wish I didn’t need your help but I do. I wish you’d turned out to be somebody else, some other kind of person—” what was he saying? He didn’t know what kind of person she was “—but you know what they say about wishes.”

“If wishes were kisses all frogs would be princes,” she said. “Or were you thinking of the one where all beggars would ride?”

Animosity was palpable. So was the sudden and out-of-the-blue desire to find out if he could become a prince if she kissed him. He wanted to taste her, that was sure.

The hair on his arms fuzzed to attention. God, he was an idiot. If he kept on letting her make his mind wander, they were dead.

He tightened his jaw. Whatever it took, no kids or strangely fascinating women died on his watch ever again. Especially not because of him. He drew a breath and focused his whole attention on his…captive.

“We have to get out of here,” he said. He reached out to stroke Sasha’s head. “I promise you I don’t mean you or him any harm. I want to get this little guy whatever help he needs, but it has to be far away from here. If we stay here discussing what’s right or wrong about what I’ve done so far this morning, we put him and ourselves at more risk than I can tell you. That’s the truth.”

She had no reason to believe him, but she studied him seriously nevertheless; held herself perfectly still and assessed him with those strangely colored eyes. It was almost a cop’s stare, flat and unyielding, guaranteed to make the guilty look away first. Well, he might be guilty as hell, but he’d be damned if he looked away.

Time passed, a minute, two, before she dropped her chin in the merest fraction of a nod. Then she inclined her head toward the keys still sitting in the ignition.

“You drive,” she said.

He took great pains to belt her and the little boy securely into the rear seat before he grabbed the padded duffel bag, pulled a black T-shirt out of it and mopped himself off with it before sliding it on. Then he climbed into the car, repositioned the driver’s seat to fit his height and did as Allyn suggested. Gravel spit out from underneath the tires when they pulled out of the parking lot, punctuating the urgency with which he drove.

The sensation of power shifting and balancing uncomfortably between them was almost overwhelming.

Allyn did her best not to look at him, not to watch his face in the mirror. The accidental touches when he’d wrapped the shoulder belt around her had been wholly impersonal but nonetheless a challenge to ignore. She liked the smell of him, the taste of him, the muskiness that lay heavy in her lungs. The very thought scared her to death.

He scared her to death.

Of course, being afraid of him only made sense, but there was no way on earth she planned to let him know it.

Reluctantly, Allyn turned her attention to the child in her arms. She’d held a lot of little ones in her lifetime; she was a fair bit older than most of her cousins, and then there were Becky’s kids. All in all, in a family as closely knit as her mother’s, it added up to experience. Experience told her that this youngster was not at all in the shape he should be.

He was dressed in a toddler’s dirty undershirt and a pair of cotton training pants, underneath which he wore a soggy disposable diaper. His hair was blond, skin white to the point of translucence, threaded with the blue and lavender of veins; the light pulse at his throat was visible. Aside from the occasional twitch of eyelids, the pulse was the only movement she could detect in him. And while outside it was hot, he felt cold and clammy to touch; instinctively she wanted to bundle him tight, to warm him. She twisted as best she could to reach behind her for the blanket she kept on the car’s rear window shelf.

“What are you doing?” her captor queried sharply.

“He’s cold.” She met his gaze in the rearview mirror, noted the color of his eyes for the first time: midnight blue. Concerned, but about as genial as a hawk’s. “I’m wrapping him up.”

“Good.” Then, almost apologetically, “There weren’t any blankets where he was. There wasn’t much of anything. I’m not even sure he’s worn clean clothes in the past couple of weeks. Or had a bath. Or eaten much, or done anything kids do. I couldn’t do anything for him where he was. I had to take him.”

Again he met her glance in the mirror. Truth and something more were there where she didn’t want to see either of them. She dropped her gaze first, stroked the child’s hair.

“Do you really mean to help him?” she asked finally, quietly.

“Yes.” Succinct, ferocious. A man who’d found himself in an untenable situation he’d no control over and who’d decided to change the circumstances to appease his conscience—even if it meant forcing his ends to justify his means.

And that included abducting Allyn and stealing her car.

She glanced at him again, considered the simplicity of his yes, the shape the child was in. And for the second time in her life made an abrupt and rash decision—and never mind that she’d currently been in the process of regretting the first quick decision she’d ever made. She decided to throw caution to the winds for the sake of a child. Doing so didn’t mean rashly trusting the guy driving her car, after all. It simply involved making sure that the baby got cleaned up, got help, got home—or got someplace that would make him a good home. In which case, if they were going to spend any time together—if she was going to help him help the toddler—she’d need a name for both of them.

“Okay.” For the second time she offered the man in the front seat a clipped nod. “I won’t do this for you, but I’ll help him. Understood?”

Allyn thought she saw him swallow a grin of relief. “Got it.”

“Don’t get cocky,” she advised him. “Nobody’s home free.”

Astounded, he glanced over his shoulder at her. “Don’t get cocky?” he asked. “Who are you? Who the hell do you think planned this expedition? Cocky, my left little toe. I get cocky, all three of us get killed.”

This could involve all three of them getting killed? Allyn refused to gulp. “As long as we understand each other,” she said—with a great deal more serenity than she felt. But heck, he didn’t need to know that. “And by the way?”


“I don’t think you planned this expedition at all well. In fact, I think your planning stinks. The shape this baby is in stinks. Literally. We need to get him cleaned up and find out what’s wrong with him.”

“I saw an opportunity, I grabbed it,” he told her—a trifle huffily, truth be known. “I intend to get Sasha cleaned up and to a doctor as soon as we’re out of the city and I can find someone who’ll accept cash for silence.” He paused. Then, “I suppose you’d have planned things better?”

“Well, I wouldn’t offer cash for silence, that’s for sure,” she said tartly. “Says you’ve got something to hide. No.” She shook her head. “I’d go to someone I trusted and—”

“No.” Refusal was flat and unnegotiable. “Last time I did that my baby sister was killed.”

Killed? Startled, she looked at the mirror, trying to see his face. His gaze remained resolutely on the road in front of them, telling her everything and nothing. “Oh, so you thought kidnapping a perfect stranger would be safer for both your emotional psyche and the stranger?” Her hold on the baby—Sasha, was that what he’d said?—tightened involuntarily, and for the first time a thin cry erupted from the child. She looked at him; his eyes remained closed, but there was some movement in the thin frame, the flop of an arm, the fisting of a hand. She loosened her grip slightly and cuddled him closer, bundled the blanket more securely around him. “I don’t think so.”

“Neither do I.” Denial was savage. “That’s why I have the gun and I’m not letting either you or Sasha out of my sight. I need to figure out who to trust who won’t either get killed or turn on me, and how to let you go safely.”

Silence was abrupt and complete. At the fringes of their concentration on each other and the moment, cracks in the pavement thudded beneath the car’s tires; intermittent traffic whooshed and receded. Allyn broke the silence first.

“I’m sorry about your sister,” she said.

“Me, too,” he agreed tightly. “So,” he asked when the moment had passed. “Any other better ideas than the ones I’ve got?”

Sarcasm fairly dripped from the question. But there were things he didn’t know about her, either. Like the story behind the beginning of her mother’s relationship with her stepfather. She thought of how her mother and Gabriel had pretended to be lovers, pretended to know each other well in order to hide him in plain sight.
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